“The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example.”– Benjamin Disraeli
Another year brings with it another Memorial Day. Although it marks the unofficial beginning of summer, it also marks something else: The opportunity to thank all our soldiers and honor those who we’ve lost.
FREEDOM IS NOT FREE
So this year, in addition to firing up the grill and relaxing with family, shopping and enjoying ourselves, let’s stop for a moment and pay homage to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that we can enjoy the fruits of their labor.
So it was fitting after a stroll and breakfast in our little Westchester village, adorned with American flags – that HBO was screening “Taking Chance”. This is excellent viewing for Memorial day in honor of our fallen troops and in remembrance of those who went before and paved the way for us.
Over 5000 American soldiers and Marines have died in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet, except for family, friends and comrades, their deaths are mostly statistics, repatriations shielded from public view and burials largely out of sight and mind.
MAY WE NEVER FORGET!
Take a moment to see this poignant short movie. It is based on real events and a powerful tribute not only to Chance Phelps, a 19-year-old Marine killed during a 2004 firefight, but to scores of fellow war victims.
Based on the true experiences of Lt. Colonel Michael Strobl, who wrote eloquently of them in a widely circulated 2004 article, Taking Chance is a profoundly emotional look at the military rituals taken to honor its war dead, as represented by a fallen Marine killed in Iraq, Lance Corporal Chance Phelps.
Working as a strategic analyst at Marine Corps Base Quantico in VA, Lt. Col. Strobl (Kevin Bacon) learns that Phelps had once lived in his hometown, and volunteers to escort the body to its final resting place in Wyoming. As Strobl journeys across America, he discovers the great diligence and dignity in how the military, and all those involved with preparing and transporting the body, handle their duties. Equally important, he encounters hundreds of people affected by Chances death, a vast majority of whom never knew him.
This collective grieving eventually causes Lt. Col. Strobl, a veteran of Desert Storm now assigned to office duty, to probe his own guilt about not re-deploying to Iraq for the current conflict. Arriving in Wyoming, Lt. Col. Strobl completes his catharsis when he encounters Chances gracious family and friends, and discovers an extraordinary outpouring of community support.
The Defense Department has banned virtually all media coverage of deceased vets returning home since the 1991 Gulf War, a decision currently under Pentagon review. But the military offered advice and assistance, providing Taking Chance’s film crew with a rarely viewed but painstakingly accurate account of the care and protocol bestowed upon the nation’s fallen warriors.
“Average Americans don’t know how we care for our dead or how they’re given love, care and dignity,” says first-time director Ross Katz, an Oscar-nominated producer for Lost in Translation and In the Bedroom. “It’s awe-inspiring.”
Strobl, a Desert Storm veteran, says he decided against another combat tour largely because of his young family. But he was conflicted, and joined the many military personnel who volunteered for escort duty as Iraqi war deaths escalated. Strobl’s week-long trip accompanying Phelps’ body from a Delaware military mortuary to burial in Wyoming provides Taking Chance’s poignant emotional context.
Strobl shared his 20-page journal of the trip with friends and co-workers, and it eventually spread virally to military blogs and the media. It was quickly green-lit for filming after surfacing at HBO, which has become a major outlet for war-related programming both documentary and dramatized, with miniseries and films such as Generation Kill; Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq; Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery; and Last Letters Home: Voices of American Troops From the Battlefields of Iraq.
Kevin Bacon, who plays Strobl, says he initially rejected the role because of the generally tepid viewer response to war-themed films. But Bacon says he realized that Taking Chance’s underlying themes of honor, empathy and respect weren’t unique to the Iraqi conflict.
“This was about casualties of war, not just Iraq. And what I was struck with was what Mike Strobl was struck with — the response from people he encountered,” Bacon says. “Universally, people were moved and affected by the death of a Marine they never saw.” Even during filming, an empty coffin elicited compassion, he says.
Though Taking Chance is viewed through Strobl’s mostly stoic lens, the film’s coda — a montage of photos and videos of Chance Phelps as a boy and fun-loving teen — may leave few viewers dry-eyed.
This movie is devoid of any political bias and I highly recommend this to be viewed this weekend with your families.
We’re all probably guilty of becoming numb to the statistics of casualties. I hope this movie makes people realize that every one of (the dead) had vibrant lives, and to take a moment and think about them.
“Each man is a hero and an oracle to somebody.”– Ralph Waldo Emerson
So spare a moment and have a teachable moment with your children, friends and family. We should all remember that the Memorial weekend is not only about shopping, BBQ and fun.
WE SALUTE OUR TROOPS AND HONOR OUR FALLEN HEROES